Amid the Green Corn: Part Three
by V Rose Dahrke
Even back then we knew not to go too far towards the mountains. We didn’t know about the Rilikan or their fields, we just knew that if someone went off in that direction there was a decent chance they wouldn’t be coming back. Obviously we know more now, but what little we had back then was enough for Simon to know that it was both the best and worst direction he could head if he was hoping to survive.
Granted, he didn’t want to leave, but he didn’t want to die either. When Lilac On the Hillside (that’s what we called Stands Before the Buck before the accident, and I still think of her as Lilac) came sneaking across the camp a little before daybreak to tell us there was a mob forming, he started to panic. He wasn’t a confrontational sort of man, not even when he was angry. He wanted me to hide him at first, but it didn’t take long for him to figure out that wasn’t going to work. Even if there was a place to lay low for a while there was no way this was going to blow over. So, when they finally did come for him he did the only thing he could do: he ran. Went out the front of his shack, looped around the back, and tore off towards the mountains. Nothing on his back, nothing in his hands. Just ran.
And that was how the hunt started, and I mean THE hunt. The hunt for the black deer that some of the older people talk about so fondly? This was that. I don’t mean it was like that or that it was as fun as that, I mean it was that. Simon is the black deer.
I had known we were past the point where hiding would be any use, but I had no idea they would take it as far as they did. It got ugly, the kind of ugly you don’t see too many times in one life, and it was ugly because it stopped being ugly. If that makes any sense.
Think about it this way: Simon was all but stricken from the record of this clan, but people had so much fun hunting him that they rewrote their own history with him as an animal so that they could pass along stories of the event. They had fun. They had a lot of fun. They made him into an animal so they could enjoy their memories of that fun.
It was goddamn disgusting.
It lasted three days. I was with them the whole time, and so was the rain. We both tried in our own ways to talk them home, but they were having none of it. They chased him through the foothills by day, knowing that even if he had the strength to keep going by night they’d wake up to an easy trail. He’d always been a piss-poor hunter. He was unarmed, he had no provisions, and he was terrified, so they took a leisurely approach to the whole thing. Drank the whole way. Stayed up late singing and joking around the fire. I’m sure he could hear them. I’m sure their confidence frightened him. That was the worst part for me: how sure they were that they’d find him.
They were sure it’d be fun when they did.
On the afternoon of the third day, they did catch up to him. I can’t tell you…he was covered in mud from sleeping in too-low pockets of ground, and his eyes were so…wild. Just wild. He looked like a deer, he did, and I could tell from the looks he gave me when he turned back now and again that he didn’t recognize me. He could barely run anymore; he just sort of jogged in this shambling, breathless way while the mob followed. By the end they were just walking after him. No hurry at all, sure he would collapse soon enough.
Then, just as the sun went down, he seemed to gather up one last burst of strength. Somebody said they thought he was looking to get far enough away from us to earn one last night alive, but I didn’t think so. I thought it was the end. He ran with everything he had left in him, all his strength and fear and guilt gathered together in one last pile of tinder. They kept walking, but I ran after him. I was sure he was going to die.
Before he could, the pair of us bolted ran right into a clearing in the forest. That was the one thing Fire got right, his description of that cornfield. It was beautiful. It was just…there were no words for it. And it wasn’t just a cornfield, either; it was what they used to call the Three Sisters. Corn, beans, squash. And this was back when we were lucky to scrape anything at all out of the ground.
We both stopped. I stood and stared. Simon dropped to his knees in the mud and the vines, and then he dropped down onto his elbows too and bowed his head. He was shaking, hard, and he let out this sound that wasn’t a cry and wasn’t a wail and wasn’t really intelligible until the third or fourth time he made it. By the time I realized he was shouting “run” the ground was shaking. The rest of the hunting party broke through the tree line just in time to scatter as the Rilikan rode up. Thirty, forty of them, on just the biggest horses you’ve ever seen. You, you know. You’ve seen a Rilikan horse. The rest of you…well, I guess you’ll see tomorrow.
The next five minutes were pandemonium, but nobody died just then. I don’t think Simon moved, and I followed his lead. He’d figured out sooner than me what it would mean for us to stumble onto something like that field, so I figured it’d be best to follow the man who, miraculously, somehow had things in order. When everyone had stopped shouting and we’d dropped our weapons and were standing there hoping they’d stop pointing theirs at us, East on Horseback spoke up. He didn’t try to explain what was going on. All he said was “We came here by accident. If you let us, we’ll leave without making trouble. What do we need to do to make that happen?”
And this tiny little woman, this elf on a destrier, gives him a look that sends him shaking and says in a voice way, way deeper than should have come out of her “Tell me my name. My real name. My Soulname. You each get one guess. If you all get it wrong, you all leave without tongues, but you leave alive. If one of you gets it right, he sleeps in my tent tonight. In the morning he’ll rule the Rilikan, their fields, and their queen. The rest will die.”
He looked at her in just sheer terror (I couldn’t help think of the fear he’d put my brother through then) and said “Madam, I don’t even know your Bondname.”
“Triumph Justly Warring. You may guess first.”